Chile is a leader in Latin America in many areas, including human development, quality of life and political stability.
But there is still a great deal of poverty. In the poorest areas of Chile, people live in slums. Their houses are made from weak materials and are very small. These slum neighborhoods often have no plumbing or electricity.
Many people believe these homes are unfit for any person to live in. To deal with these issues, some citizens of Chile have created an organization called Un Techo para mi Pais, meaning a roof or home for my country. This organization is similar to Habitat for Humanity in the United States in that it improves housing for those in poverty.
Un techo para mi Pais builds houses and helps with social development within a community. They work to improve education and community organization and offer work training in several fields. They help to create stronger communities by offering them the necessary tools to begin a new life.
Un Techo para mi Pais works with many countries throughout Central and South America. The program began in Chile in the year 1997. and has continued to grow and assist more countries each year. Since it was started, Un Techo para mi Pais has built 32,055 houses in Chile alone.
In other countries the program is only just beginning, with some countries joining as recently as 2008. The organization is sustained mainly through student volunteers that help to build and paint transitional homes, and it is a surprisingly well-organized program.
I volunteered one weekend with other exchange students from my program and painted houses in Valparaiso. In the morning a bus came to pick us up from the university and drove to a poor neighborhood, where we were separated into groups and assigned our houses. We were given all the materials and then walked to the houses to meet the families.
After painting for several hours, we had lunch, which the families made for us. We were welcomed into their homes and offered drinks and food. This helped us to get to know the families and their situation better. After lunch there was a big game of soccer with all the volunteers and neighborhood kids.
Later, we finished painting the houses and then we all headed home for the day. This is an example of how the program is run every weekend in the countries throughout Latin America.
Each country involved in the program is working toward eradicating slums completely. Since Chile started the program, it has made more progress than the other countries and therefore is very close to achieving this goal.
The goal for Chile is to be slum-free by 2010. Currently, they are building every weekend, and they have 160,275 volunteers for this project alone.
While they are unsure if they will be able to complete such a big task by the end of this year, they are certainly making a difference each week in the lives of many families and will hopefully continue to be successful.